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Education for Sustainable Development Programs in Japan:
A Deep Dive into Sustainable Initiatives in the Shikoku Region

18 March, 2024

As communities around the world embrace efforts to become more sustainable, there has been a heightened interest in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). Sustainability is a crucial theme and it is especially important for the next generation to take steps to protect the environment. In Japan, there has been a growing number of efforts to promote ESD.
Learn more about ESD programs that can be incorporated into educational travel.

The island of Shikoku is known as a pilgrimage site with a deep-rooted culture of hospitality and lush natural landscapes such as the remote mountainous Iya Valley. It also draws visitors with renowned art events such as the Setouchi Triennale. Ranking sixth on Lonely Planet’s Best Destinations to Travel in 2022, the region has jumped to the spotlight as an attractive travel destination for both domestic and international visitors.

Despite its growing popularity, Shikoku, like many other regions in Japan, is up against issues such as a declining and aging population as well as large-scale natural disasters. These problems are major barriers to the preservation of culture and the natural environment. Many local governments and companies are striving to foster sustainable regional development, and efforts are underway to design educational tours through collaboration among local governments, companies, and travel agencies.

These programs have been created to combine the joys of travel with learning, and help young visitors uncover the hidden gems of Shikoku. This way, we can help ensure that the regions greatest assets continue to shine for years to come.

Read below about two programs that have been designed to achieve the SDGs: A tour to the Besshi Copper Mines in Niihama City, Ehime Prefecture and a learning program in Kamikatsu, Tokushima Prefecture, a town that embraces the Zero Waste Declaration.

Program 1: A copper mine tour and SDGs seminar teaching about the history of environmental solutions

The Sumitomo Group SDGs Seminar & Copper Mine Tour (only for student groups) is being conducted in Niihama City, Ehime Prefecture since 2022.

The Besshi Copper Mine was one of the three largest copper mines in Japan. Mining in Besshi began in the early Edo period (1603-1868) and was rapidly modernized after the Meiji period (1868-1912), contributing to the economic development of not only the local area but the entire country. At the same time, the mining company took measures to deal with the smoke pollution and promote afforestation projects. These sustainability efforts received local recognition.

The Besshi Copper Mine was closed in 1973, but since the Sumitomo Group had been operating the mine since its opening, valuable historical materials have not been lost. Sightseeing tunnels and a memorial museum have been established for visitors.

The Sumitomo Group SDGs Seminar & Besshi Copper Mine Tour takes visitors to the Minetopia Besshi sightseeing tunnel with a volunteer guide followed by an SDGs seminar led by Sumitomo Group employees. In this short two-hour tour, students walk through a mine reproduced using giant models and videos, and learn about the history of corporate efforts to address environmental issues. This provides them with a valuable opportunity to think about how to nurture a sustainable society.

Touring a sightseeing tunnel with a volunteer guide

Program 2: A deep dive into SDGs in Japan’s first “zero-waste” town

In 2003, Kamikatsu, Tokushima Prefecture, became the first municipality in Japan to declare a “zero-waste” policy.

Kamikatsu does not have a garbage collection service. Each household composts its own food scraps and takes all other waste to the town’s garbage station as recyclable resources. The trash is then sorted into more than 45 types depending on how it is recycled. Kamikatsu’s garbage recycling rate is over 80%.

The Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center—where the garbage station is also located—has a learning center, an exchange hall, and the Kuru Kuru thrift shop which houses children’s clothes and other used items. Hotel Why, a lodging experience facility made out of scrap wood from fixtures, is also part of the Zero Waste Center. The town attracts visitors from all over the world as a zero-waste hub.

Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center, a complex which houses the garbage station

Visitors can learn about sustainable initiatives in Kamikatsu through the “Learning in SDGs Future Cities: From Secluded Communities to Sustainable Towns” plan, a three-way partnership between Kamikatsu Town, a foundation that works to foster entrepreneurship and regional development, and a major travel agency.

There are three plans, all of which revolve around a visit to the Zero Waste Center. Participants learn about the history of efforts to reduce incineration and landfill waste and improve recycling rates through board and video explanations. To protect residents’ privacy, visitors are not allowed to enter the sorting area—this is another aspect that demonstrates how resident-driven the initiative is.

The program also features pre- and post-visit learning led by a full-time lecturer from the foundation involved in entrepreneurship development and regional development. The program provides opportunities for students to deepen their thinking based on the knowledge they gained on the trip, including online conversations with people from progressive regions working toward achieving the SDGs as well as the exchange of opinions about what they learned in Kamikatsu.

What we can learn from sustainable community development in secluded regions

Among the sustainable community development efforts undertaken by local governments and businesses in Shikoku, the “leaf business” in Kamikatsu serves as a successful example of older residents playing an active role. This business started in 1986 to grow garnishes in the mountain slopes and farms, and sell them. These garnishes include wasabi and maple leaves, which add color to dishes at Japanese restaurants.

Kamikatsu is a depopulated and aging municipality located in the mountains at an elevation of more than 700 m, but the leaf business has been waves, with some older residents earning around 10 million yen a year. The business has even been the subject of a movie.

Depending on the type of plan, the above-mentioned programs also provide opportunities for participants to interact with residents. They are able to observe the leaf business, take a tour of an eco-hotel at Tsukigaya Onsen in the heart of town, participate in a workshop at the Zero Waste Center, and conduct interviews with town development leaders.

Despite being a secluded community, Kamikatsu serves as a great example of place where older residents work proactively, households do not produce waste, and even scrap wood is reused with excellent design concepts. These initiatives contain hints on as to how we can thrive in our current times.

Purchase Planning Section 3, West Japan Purchase and Sales Department, Purchase Products Division, JTB Corporation
Email : west_sensha_danki@jtb.com